Each year millions around the world are diagnosed with some form of valve disease, a condition that occurs when one or more of the heart valves isn’t functioning properly (for more information on how valves work, click here). The heart has four valves which are responsible for keeping the blood flowing in the right direction. In some cases, that blood flow may be blocked or disrupted because the valve does not open or close properly, or the valve may not have formed properly at birth. Read on to learn more about the different types of valve disease, risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options.


Valve disease can happen in any of the four valves and there are different types depending on what the issue is. Typically valve disease occurs in the one of the following ways:

Stenosis: This occurs when a valve doesn’t open properly due to the thickening, stiffening, or the fusion of the flaps. When this happens, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the narrowed or stiffened valve, which can result in a reduced supply of oxygen to the rest of the body. Aortic valve stenosis is the most common valve disease.

Regurgitation: When a valve doesn’t close tightly, blood can flow backward in the heart. This is also known as insufficiency, incompetence, or “leaky valve.”

Prolapse: Typically occurring in the mitral valve, prolapse happens when the leaflets of the valve don’t close evenly and bulge into the heart’s upper chamber. Mitral valve prolapse can also be called Barlow’s syndrome or floppy valve syndrome.
Atresia: This is a congenital condition that occurs when a valve doesn’t form properly or is completely missing. Instead, a sheet of tissue blocks the blood flow between the heart chambers.

You may have an increased risk of valve disease if you are older, have certain conditions, or participate in certain unhealthy behaviors. Some risk factors for heart disease include:

  • Smoking
  • Older age
  • History of certain heart infections, heart disease or heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Heart conditions present at birth (congenital heart disease)

Many times a heart valve problem is identified when a healthcare provider hears a murmur when checking the heartbeat with a stethoscope. A murmur is an unusual sound heard between heartbeats and may sound like a “whooshing” noise or an extra click. Not all murmurs are problematic, and valve disease can be present without a murmur. Other physical signs of heart valve disease can include:

  • Chest pain, discomfort or palpitations (rapid rhythms or skips)
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty catching your breath, or inability to maintain regular activity level
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of your feet, ankles or abdomen
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Quick weight gain

Bear in mind, valve disease can be asymptomatic (meaning there no symptoms) and can still be severe. And while the severity of the valve disease may not be significant, the symptoms can be uncomfortable enough to cause a problem. Be sure to tell your doctor if you notice irregular or new symptoms that may pertain to your condition.

If you’ve been diagnosed with valve disease it’s important to take it seriously, even if it is not severe. If ignored, the problem can worsen and become difficult to treat. For example, when aortic stenosis becomes severe, the average survival rate without surgical intervention is only 50 percent after two years and only 20 percent after five years (via the American Heart Association). Depending on the severity of the disease, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  1. Lifestyle changes Following a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes changes to diet, physical activity, stress management, weight management, and quitting tobacco use.
  2. Regular Follow-ups Your doctor may want to monitor your condition more closely, which would include more frequent visits to determine if a different treatment plan is necessary.
  3. Medication While there aren’t any medications that stop a valve from leaking or open a valve that is constricted, medications may decrease the risk of having additional problems, and it can help relieve symptoms. Candidates for medication include those who are not eligible for surgery, or those with less severe conditions.
  4. Valve repair or replacement In some cases, the valve may need to be repaired or replaced through a surgery or minimally invasive procedure such as TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement). Bear in mind that certain types of procedures/surgeries carry a risk of stroke, so be sure to talk to your Heart Team about this complication (check out our list of questions to ask your Heart Team here). You may be eligible for embolic protection with a device like Sentinel, which could reduce your risk of having a stroke while undergoing certain valve replacement procedures.


This educational blog was provided by Boston Scientific.     SH-610004-AA